What if You Were the First Youth Pastor Ever?

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Imagine this: You wake up one day to discover that you are now in an alternate universe. Everything about your world is essentially the same, with one exception: youth ministry as we know it has never existed. Perhaps Jim Rayburn gave up ministry to become an auto mechanic, or maybe Wayne Rice convinced Mike Yaconelli one night before the creation of Youth Specialties to join his bluegrass band, and the pair spent the rest of their lives as a highly-rated duo singing songs about squirrels–“Pharaoh, Pharaoh” never saw the light of day. Whatever the reason, in this alternate universe Doug Fields is the most successful Farmer’s Insurance agent in southern California, Josh Griffin helps run a popular Star Wars fanboy website works nights at a computer repair shop in Winnemucca, NV, and Kara Powell heads up the Classified Research Division of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The world has never heard of Youth Specialties, Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry, Young Life, Youth Ministry 3.0, or Fluffy Bunny.

Today in this alternate universe, you are beginning a job at your church. After attending the church for a few years, you’ve been tapped to help the church carry out a specific task: help teenagers in your church and community know Jesus and live for him. Remember, you’re the pioneer in this whole youth ministry thing, and you might be the first youth pastor ever.

My question is this: what five resources would you have on your side if you could choose them? By resources, I don’t just mean curriculum or stuff you can get off the internet. I’m using the term in the broad sense, which would include not just physical resources, but also some intangibles that are harder to measure, such as a great relationship with your senior pastor or a committed core of parents. Feel free to think a bit outside the box, as I try to below.

I know that defining the youth pastor position as a job, I’ve already stepped outside the bounds for some of you in terms of how you would shape this thing we call Youth Ministry had you the chance to start it all over. But, I wanted to narrow the scope of the question a bit. Here’s how I answer the question:

1. A great marriage. One of the biggest strengths for me in ministry is my wife, Jennifer. She’s an amazing encouragement, and when I give her, our marriage, and our family the time and energy they deserve, ministry just seems to go a lot smoother.

2. A passionate, visionary senior pastor who is passionate about people knowing Jesus. Thankfully, this one is true for me where I am right now. A lot of youth pastors wish their senior pastor would support them and the youth ministry more. Those are probably good things, but I think it simply starts with a senior pastor who is passionate about people knowing Jesus, which helps determine the direction of his/her church’s youth ministry.

3. A core group of parents who believe that they should be the primary disciplers of their children. Look, we know that this is how it’s supposed to work: parents should be the primary disciplers of their children, including their teenagers. A group of parents who were passionate about this would be a huge asset in helping other parents grow in this area. Of course, not all parents will want to disciple their kids–or will even have a relationship with Jesus for that matter. But it doesn’t mean we don’t set it up as the ideal.

4. A core group of missionary-minded students. One of my critiques about the common critiques of modern youth ministry is this: those critiques often only take into account the small percentage of teenagers who are followers of Jesus and are a part of our churches. Yes, we need to encourage parents more and stop trying to do their jobs for them. Yes, we need to stop separating the teenagers in our youth ministry from the broader church. But what about those teenagers who desperately need to know that God loves them and that his Son died on the cross so they might have life in Jesus? Not only are they not in our church’s worship services or youth ministry, too often they’re not on our radar. And guess what? It’s not the job of the youth pastor to connect with all those teenagers and tell them about Jesus. It’s the job of the teenagers in your church! Our job is to equip them, and when the teenagers we serve are passionate about being missionaries wherever God has placed them, the sky really is the limit.

5. A loving group of mature adults who love mentoring teenagers. It was tough to decide what would be the last item on this list, but I think it has to be mature, mentoring adults. And note that these adults don’t necessarily need to be a part of the “official” youth ministry team. When it’s part of a church’s culture to love teenagers naturally, and teenagers are mentored and nourished in their faith by several loving adults, those teenagers are far more likely to make an impact for the Kingdom, wherever God places them.

So, that’s the list. What would you put in your list of five resources if you were the first youth pastor ever?

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